Tight COVID-19 safety measures at parliament as debate on budget bill starts
With the ongoing COVID-19 surge in Bangkok and its suburbs, unusually tight safety measures have been imposed at the Thai Parliament, as the three-day House debate on the government’s 3.1 trillion baht budget Bill for the 2022 fiscal year begins today (Monday).
Everyone, including cabinet ministers, MPs, reporters and officials, are being required to complete entry forms, either in advance through an app or at the entrance to parliament, causing a bottleneck at the entry points. Each MP is allowed to be accompanied by just one aide.
At the order of Mrs. Pornpit Petcharoen, secretary-general of the House of Representatives, all reporters and photographers are barred from using the mezzanine floor, where they usually gather to monitor the parliamentary proceedings, reportedly to ease congestion and to prevent droplets from their conversations falling onto the MPs below.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha arrived at parliament before the debate, without talking to reporters, apart from exclaiming “I am ready!” when asked about the debate.
House Speaker Chuan Leekpai said a special podium, with a glass partition, has been installed for MPs, the prime minister or ministers, who want to speak during the debate without wearing a face mask, otherwise they must wear a mask at all times.
The podium will be disinfected every time after a person has finished speaking, said Mr. Chuan, adding that the measure is necessary because anyone can spread the disease, especially via airborne droplets emitted while speaking, adding that he warned MPs not to sit close together, but some of them ignore his warning because they want to be seen on TV.
The House Speaker said that the Disease Control Department recommends that voting on the budget bill, at the end of the three-day debate, should not take more than 15 minutes to avoid the risk of many people converging in the chamber.
He did, however, express optimism that the situation may change for the better during the second reading of the bill.
Opposition chief whip and Pheu Thai MP for Maha Sarakham province, Mr. Sutin Klangsang, said this morning that opposition MPs will try to point out the weaknesses in the government’s efforts to address economic problems and its various other failures, even though the budget bill will sail through its first reading.
The Pheu Thai party has been allocated 760 minutes for its MPs to speak during the debate and each MP will be given only 10 minutes, but that can be extended to 15-30 minutes on certain key issues, he said.
The proposed 2022 annual budget has been set at 3.1 trillion Baht, almost 186 billion baht less than last year.
The largest single allocation will be a central budget, worth 571 billion Baht, or 18.4% of overall spending, which is slightly less than last year’s 18.7%. The Education Ministry is expected to continue to receive the largest budget allocation of all the ministries, at 332.39 billion Baht, while defense spending is expected to be cut by 11.24 billion Baht to 203.28 billion Baht.